Show Me Nothing: Missouri Members Entrenched

Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:00pm

Polarized districts and entrenched incumbents mean ambitious Missouri politicians are already looking past the 2014 elections to 2016 and beyond as a means to get to Congress.

So far, there has been no indication that anyone in the Show-Me State delegation will retire in 2014, according to top Democratic and Republican leaders in the state. What’s more, this cycle marks the first in decades with neither a Senate nor gubernatorial race for Missouri.

The dearth of competitive contests prompted one GOP consultant in Missouri to label this cycle as the “deadest period in Missouri political history in the last 25 years.”

The one potential exception is the 8th District, where newly elected Rep. Jason Smith could face a primary challenge from a top statewide official. Smith, a Republican, was elected in June after GOP Rep. Jo Ann Emerson resigned. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder formed an exploratory committee on Monday to challenge Smith.

Initially, Kinder’s name had been floated as a top choice for the seat when Emerson left. But local GOP officials picked Smith as their nominee to win the seat in early June. Because Smith did not win a primary outright, he could be vulnerable to a nomination fight next year.

Six Republicans and two Democrats make up the House delegation in Missouri, and they all represent very partisan districts: Each member won by at least 15 points in his or her most recent election. Barring retirements or resignations, virtually the only way a Missouri district will have a new representative in the coming cycles is via a primary challenge.

The oldest member of the delegation is Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a 68-year-old Democrat. But both he and fellow Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay have held their seats for several cycles with no indication of retiring soon.

If either seat opens up, there would be no shortage of candidates, according to Democrats in the state. The field would not be limited to state lawmakers, they said, with mayors and county officials likely to enter the fray.

Cleaver’s seat is a point of particular speculation because his son Emanuel Cleaver III would be a natural candidate.

Mike Sanders, the executive of Jackson County, and state Rep. Jill Schupp are likely future candidates for these districts, said Joe Duffy, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party. Sanders serves in Cleaver’s district, while Schupp serves in Clay’s district.

“[Sanders is] a name that’s constantly being floated for attorney general or Congress,” Duffy said, adding that Schupp is a “rising star within our party.”

Republicans are similarly situated in their solidly red districts.

If Smith wins his primary, Republicans expect he will hold his seat for a long time, solidifying Missouri’s GOP representation.

Republicans mentioned Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer might consider a run for governor in 2016, thereby freeing up his 3rd District seat, but Luetkemeyer would likely face stiff primary competition from state Auditor Tom Schweich, who faces re-election in 2014, and former Missouri Speaker Catherine Hanaway.

If Luetkemeyer runs statewide, GOP state Sens. Tom Dempsey, Mike Kehoe and Scott Rupp are top prospects for his seat.

The next best statewide opportunity for Democrats comes in 2016, when Sen. Roy Blunt is up for re-election. But Blunt, the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, is not expected to retire after serving a single term.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who will be term-limited in 2016, will have the “right of first refusal” in challenging Blunt that year, a Democratic operative said. But Duffy countered that the likely Democratic nominee against Blunt will be Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel.

In 2018, Republicans will have another shot at defeating second-term Sen. Claire McCaskill. In 2012, the Democrat handily defeated her Republican challenger, then-Rep. Todd Akin, who mortally wounded his campaign with comments about “legitimate rape.”

Hanaway, Schweich and Rep. Ann Wagner are potential contenders to face her in 2018.

There are six more up-and-coming pols whom many local Republicans consider the best of their bench: state Reps. Caleb Jones, Timothy Jones and Todd Richardson and state Sens. John T. Lamping, Kurt Schaefer and Eric Schmitt.

Jones, Schmitt and Lamping serve within the 2nd District, which Wagner holds, and Caleb Jones and Schaefer serve within the 4th District, which Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler holds. Richardson serves within the 8th District, Smith’s territory.

Some of these six Republicans might be more likely to pursue a statewide position such as attorney general or treasurer, rather than a congressional seat, a Republican operative noted.

In addition, state Rep. Paul Curtman recently put himself on the GOP’s radar with a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that “really blew people’s door off,” a Republican operative said.

Comparing him to Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the operative said Curtman leans libertarian and is a stellar orator.

Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.